“Know yourself and how you want your work to make a difference. Aligning your aspirations with your skills and how you want to contribute will help shape your career and guide you to satisfaction.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicola Palmer. Nicola is the Chief Network Engineering Officer and Head of Wireless Networks for Verizon, the largest wireless company in the United States. In her role, Nicola is responsible for planning, engineering, building and operating Verizon’s wireless voice and data networks and overseeing the design and deployment of what will be the first 5G residential broadband service in the United States. She is recognized for her leadership role in advocating STEM careers, particularly for young women, and considered among the most influential women in wireless. Nicola’s honors include:
● “Women to Watch” (Fierce Wireless, December 2016)
● Top 100 CIO/CTO Leaders in STEM (STEMCONNECTOR, October 2015)
● Most Influential Women in Wireless (Fierce Wireless, 2012 and 2013)
● Honored by Working Mother magazine and Girl Scouts of Greater New York
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “back story”?
I grew up in Endicott, New York with a father who was a mechanical engineer and a mother who believed nothing was off limits for her children if they kept at it. My love of math and science and support from my parents led me to Penn State University where I completed the engineering program, following in my father’s footsteps. I later rounded out my formal education with an MBA from the Wharton School.
I’ve been with Verizon for 28 years and have had the good fortune to hold many fun and impactful jobs with a dynamic company that prides itself on the strength of its networks. I’m a wife and proud mother of three as well as a recent breast cancer survivor. I’m passionate about bringing technology to life and the need to help more young women follow their interests and abilities in STEM pathways.
Why did you join Verizon?
I have always been intrigued by the idea of connecting people through technology so, after graduation, I went to work in telecommunications with a company that would become Verizon — and I’ve been there ever since.
When I joined the company after college, in the age before cell phones and widespread internet use, I couldn’t begin to imagine the innovations we see today or the mind-blowing speed at which they have become realities. It’s been a wild ride and I’ve loved every minute of it.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Verizon has been on the forefront of virtually every major networking innovation — shaking things up with groundbreaking technology and capability for our customers. For example, when we first introduced 4G LTE in 2010, it ushered in fundamental change in how people live, work and play. Today, we continue to push the boundaries by leading the way in ecosystem development, spectrum allocation, and fiber and small cell deployment as we set the stage for a 5G future. Our hallmark is the quality and reliability of our networks. It will be no different with the next generation of technology.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
My parents played a vital role in helping me throughout my journey, both professionally and personally. Their unflagging support and the fact that they really listened and backed me every step of the way, was critical in the early years. In addition, I was fortunate to have a few special Math teachers and coaches who offered guidance at a time when girls weren’t generally encouraged to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields. At work, some very key leaders took an interest in my abilities as well. Their advice and coaching helped me immeasurably. I’ve been very fortunate — it’s one reason I try to pay it forward by helping others. Last, but far from least, would be my husband. I’m known to joke with young women that one of the most important decisions they can make for their career is to choose the right mate. The truth is that careers involve life tough life decisions and life in general is unpredictable… best to have some partnership along the way. (I nailed it on this front!)
How are you going to shake things up next?
At Verizon we don’t wait for the future — we build it. We will be first to launch 5G residential broadband services in the U.S. later this year. 5G mobile service will follow. The ongoing development and deployment of 5G is one of the greatest technology challenges of our time. How 5G technology gets designed and established is a huge responsibility and I’m thrilled to be a part of the team that is leading the charge.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
First and foremost take care of yourself. Nothing else matters in your career if you are not “fit to compete”.
The most meaningful accomplishments have two key elements: hard work and teamwork.
Know yourself and how you want your work to make a difference. Aligning your aspirations with your skills and how you want to contribute will help shape your career and guide you to satisfaction.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
There are so many ways to keep up with technology these days — podcasts, newsfeeds, trade publications, etc. But one of my favorites is to check out what new things my kids and their friends are into. Outside tech, my favorite type of reading is historical fiction and I’m a bit of a sucker for anything related to health and wellness. The best leaders of today are multi-faceted individuals with insatiable curiosity.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Actually, no one in particular. That’s not to say I don’t admire people — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malala Yousafzai, Madeleine Albright, for example, are on my “most awesome” list, along with the still small but growing list of female CEOs and Board members. But I’d rather be useful by giving an hour before classes start to a middle schooler struggling with math, or be inspired over lunch with a single mom that is somehow making it all work, or educated while savoring a cup of tea with a grandmother and gleaning wisdom through her stories.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I welcome followers on Linkedin — https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicolapalmer/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!